History of the Summer Food Service Program in the United States

In 1946, President Harry S. Truman signed the National School Lunch Act (NSLA), Public Law 396. According to the School Nutrition Association: The legislation came in response to claims that many American men had been rejected from World War II military service because of diet-related health problems. The federally assisted meal program was established as a measure of national security, to safeguard the health and well-being of the Nation's children and encourage domestic consumption of nutritious agricultural commodities.

President Truman explained in his statement upon signing the NSLA, that "in the long view, no nation is any healthier than its children or more prosperous than its farmers; and in the National School Lunch Act, the Congress has contributed immeasurably both to the welfare of our farmers and the health of our children."
The Special Food Service Program for Children was created as an amendment to the NSLA in 1968. According to the USDA, "the 3 year pilot provided grants to States to help provide meals for children when school was not in session." Under the umbrella of the Special Food Service Program were two categories: Summer and Child Care. In 1975, the original National School Lunch Act was further amended to establish the two categories as their own separate programs.

The original requirements of the SFSP included residential summer camps and sites serving areas of poor economic conditions, where at least one-third of the children who qualify for free and reduced price meals, were eligible to participate. All meals were reimbursed at a single rate, and start up and advance payments were made to help sponsors defray the costs of planning and organizing. The Summer Food Service Program has undergone numerous amendments of its own since its conception in 1975. In 1981, "poor economic conditions" was expanded to fifty-percent of the children who qualify for free and reduced price meals, were eligible to participate. In 1994, under the Healthy Meals for Healthy Americans Act, it allowed SFSP to function at non-school locations when there were emergency school closures. In 2004, childhood obesity was an emerging issue. As a result, under the Child Nutrition and WIC re-authorization Act of 2004, the USDA and Congress ramped up their efforts to increase participation in the SFSP. The simplified the application process for families and schools and also included transportation grants to help sponsors access children in rural areas.

Today the SFSP "is the largest Federal resource available for local sponsors who want to combine a child nutrition program with a summer activity program." Groups allowed to participate in SFSP include: Public and private non-profit groups, government entities, private non-profit organizations, public and private non-profit camps and public and private non-profit universities and colleges.